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7 Facts to Know about Carbohydrates

The Bottom Line

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Updated April 16, 2014

We've been spending time in this series of articles exploring carbohydrates -- what they are, what they do in our bodies, and the good, the bad, and the ugly carbs. Here are seven things for you to remember about carbohydrates.

1) Carbs = Sugar

Except for the carbohydrates like fiber that aren't broken down into glucose before they get to the colon, all carbs end up as sugar. Starches, or complex carbohydrates, are just longer strings of sugar. The only question is how quickly the sugar makes it into our bodies. Does it cause a rapid, high rise in blood glucose, or does it break down over a longer period of time? Unfortunately, most of the carbohydrate we eat is in the first category.

2) Misconception: Starches (complex carbohydrates) are broken down slowly in our bodies.

Not true. The vast majority of the carbs in the grocery store are rapidly digested. This is because the food manufacturers have kindly begun the process for us, by grinding grains into flour, refining grains and sugar, puffing rice and making it into rice cakes, etc. Whole wheat flour is almost as glycemic is white flour (though it is much more nutritious). (Read more about whole wheat bread on low-carb diets.)

3) Best bets: Non-starchy vegetables, low sugar fruits, and legumes

We've always known that our best and most nutritious sources of carbohydrates are non-starchy vegetables and low-sugar fruits. These foods include most of the best sources of phytonutrients, as well as having loads of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Now we know that legumes can be a good addition to the reduced-carb diet, because they contribute slowly digested carbohydrate and resistant starch to our diet. Each person will have to experiment with amounts when it comes to legumes.

4) When choosing grains, eat whole intact grains

For those who can tolerate more sugar, add whole grains such as rice, barley, quinoa, bulgar, etc. Whole intact grains are broken down more slowly than if they were ground into flour. There is also a small amount of resistant starch in grains eaten this way.

5) Misconception: By the time our food reaches our colons, the story is over.

Not true. There is a whole other digestive system taking place with fermentable carbohydrates that reach the colon. The friendly bacteria there make substances which contribute greatly to our health. Read more about the colon.

6) Eat plenty of fiber

Fiber is a very good thing. Seek out sources of insoluble fiber (e.g., vegetables) and fermentable fiber (soluble fiber, resistant starch, and oligosaccharides).

7) You may have put extra effort into getting sources of resistant starch

People who are able to eat high-carb diets, and focus on whole, unprocessed foods, get small amounts of resistant starch in most of the carbs they eat. This becomes an issue for low-carb eaters -- for example, even though potato salad has some resistant starch, it is too "expensive" in terms of rapidly-available sugar for us to indulge in often. This is why including legumes in our diets is a good idea, and possibly experimenting with cooking with resistant starch, such as this flax meal bread with added resistant starch.
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  3. Low Carb Diets
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  5. Carbohydrate Information
  6. 7 Facts to Know About Carbohydrates - the Bottom Line

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